by Michael Cristiano
As a writer, the last thing I want to do is restrict myself. Yes, it’s true, there are genres that I will never write (erotica, true crime, nonfiction textbooks on astrophysics), but other than that, I’m open to pretty much anything. I love straddling the line between genres, often bridging fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal and then throwing in some literary flair.
So, imagine my surprise when I was told that I should pick and stick to one genre. My conversation went something like this:
Me: “My most recent work is a blend of fantasy and sci-fi, but I have ideas that venture into horror, paranormal, and even contemporary fiction.”
Acquaintance-With-Some-Writing-Experience: “Aren’t you worried?”
Me: “No. Why?”
Acquaintance-With-Some-Writing-Experience: “I learned in my creative writing courses that authors should stick to one genre. That way, they become really good at writing it, and they become specialized in that field.”
I’m not going to lie, I understand the logic, but I was taken aback. First of all, I haven’t taken many courses. I took a few in high school and one in university, but I didn’t major in creative writing (and I didn’t want to, but that’s for another post). Most of what I learned about writing was a trial and error of sorts: reading a lot, writing a lot (of crap, I might add), getting feedback from beta-readers.
But I was completely floored that a creative writing instructor would tell students that they had to pick one genre and only one genre, and any straying was literary suicide.
Needless to say, I disagreed with this conclusion vehemently. I didn’t really say what I was thinking, giving my acquaintance some response between apathy and “to each his own”. There’s nothing wrong with writing only one genre, but there are two fundamental problems with the argument my acquaintance presented. Observe.
Writers, like all other human beings, are not static. If you had given me a salad 5 years ago, and you happened to put onions in it, I would have picked all of them out, avoiding them like they were hemlock or something. Now, however, I love onions. Put onions in EVERYTHING! I’m not even sorry for my stinky breath.
The same goes for writing. When I was younger, I loved Harry Potter. In fact, I loved it so much that I wanted to write a series about a school that taught the occult arts, and instead of wizards and witches, the students were known as little devils. Luckily, that idea didn’t last long, and as I read more, I grew to want to write more. Even now, I read more widely than ever: fantasy, science fiction, young adult, literary, horror. And ultimately, what kind of writer doesn’t get impacted by what they’re reading?
For me, diversifying is a form of improvement. By changing up what I read, I am exposed to different forms of writing, and trying them out helps me hone my craft. Is everything I produce good? Of course not, but if I’ve written something that I love and that I believe in, why should I deny it its chance to shine because it isn’t in the pre-determined genre I’ve chosen?
The Greats Don’t Always Stick with This Rule
After the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling wrote a contemporary drama and then a series of mystery novels under the name Robert Galbraith. Margaret Atwood is known for bending the rules and writing across genres, often spanning mystery, science fiction, and literary fiction. Do I think I’m on the same level as these greats? Well, no. But they’ve found success in multiple genres, so why can’t I?
Regardless of these two arguments, however, I think this solution to this issue comes down to one thing: where does your inspiration lie? There are many successful writers that stick to a single genre, and they do quite well. There are ALSO successful writers who write across genres. Do I think this has impacts on the quality of the writing itself? No. I think if a writer writes well enough, they can tackle any genre they’re passionate about.
Previously titled “You Can Only Write One Genre for the Rest of Your Writerly Life!”
Guest post contributed by Michael Cristiano. He works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press, and his freelance work has appeared on websites such as Nexopia, FluentU, and BlushPost. Check out his blog for more of his work.